Food & Drink, Libations

Rock and roll reds and fiorita wines

If you are about 30 years old or so, you entered the wine market about the time the industry entered the 20th century. 

Somewhere in there it occurred to wine makers that they could market the wine and stop worrying about the bottle contents.  And make money!  Lots of Money!  Money with a capital M!  The first one into the pool was Greg Norman.  He is a lifetime wine drinker and an Ozzie, so the notion of being a gentleman vintner was obvious to him.

He was also a multimillionaire by way of the PGA tour where every single breathing moment of the players’ lives is sponsored by someone or something.  As a businessman it was an obvious ploy to find a partner and squeeze them like grapes in a press.

The resulting label became another source of millions for Greg, but I need to add that Greg actually knew something about wine.  While I can quibble over the price of his label I need to say I have never tasted a bad Norman wine.

Any number of sportsmen promptly leapt into the sharkpool behind Greg even if their preferred tipple was a glass of water.  Yes even Mormon Canadian Golfers decided to get in on the act.  Needless to say the negotiated cost of adding a name on the bottle went up, and the quality remained, oh let’s be charitable and call it indifferent.

Today, everyone from The Great One to actors to porn stars are producing their labels and pocketing roughly $2-$4 every time a bottle is sold. Consumers seem to have a peculiar faith in their personal heroes. It has finally occurred to a producer to systematically mine the vein (AKA “Fleecing schlubs”) and produce a line of wines for rockers.

Wines that Rock is “crafting these great tasting wines with classic music as our muse ” and packaging them behind “The coolest wine labels – ever”, and selling them for about $25.  The bit about the labels is absolutely true.  The label design work is by some of the greatest graphic designers of the last 50 years.  The Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon is the iconic prism design (by Hipgnosis/George Hardie) seen everywhere for the last 40 years, even on t-shirts of Africans who have never heard or even heard of Pink Floyd.  The Forty Licks Merlot has John Pasche’s Rolling Stones logo, the updated version from the eponymous collection released a couple of years ago.

Despite endless reservations, I picked up three Californian (where else?) wines from rockers; the two mentioned above and The Dreaming Tree, a wine named for a Dave Mathews track, and apparently owned by him.

My reservations were not disappointed.  Forty Licks Merlot is a classic sweet Californian merlot of the type excoriated by Miles in the movie Sideways.  The palate is perfectly inoffensive – how the Stones ever signed off on such a teenie-pop style of wine remains a mystery.  There are lots of fruit flavours, particularly cherry and strawberry.  The winemaker claims apricot but darned if I can taste that.  The bouquet is about what you’d expect from such a mass market wine, mostly smelling of vanilla and a bit of spice from the oak.

After the merlot I was kind of depressed (I’m a fan of both the Stones and Floyd) and put the Pink Floyd Cabernet Sauvignon aside for a day.  I am a bonafide lover of cabernet based wines, but they tend to a rather stern formal structure.  Mind you the Pink Floyd canon shows endless amounts of classical music structure behind it, so maybe…

Wrongo.  Of all the sweet wines I’ve drunk in the last two years – and the number is brutally high.  This trend is not going away any time soon; these wines are literally rewriting the recipe book on consumer wines; gushing forth like oil from a pipeline hole. – this one did nothing to impress me further with the genre.

Mildly more structured than Forty Licks, it is again a wine with a bouquet that yields very little other than oak, and a palate that can only please folks who do not really like cabernet sauvignon.  The tannins have racked with an enthusiasm unseen since the Spanish Inquisition. (Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!) If you can find something resembling a tannin in your glass I suggest writing a letter of complaint to Wines That Rock, as it is clearly a processing error.

Which brings me to the very surprising Dreaming Tree Crush.  To be clear this is still a wine that belongs in the easy drinking category.  However it really stood out compared to the other two.  For a start, the bouquet didn’t smell of vanilla and caramel, but rather of fruit and that subtle bit of dust and smoke of a normal wine.  The palate is definitely more serious and will appeal to folks who drink and enjoy reds, and did so before the stampede of sweet reds swept all before it.

I actually enjoyed this wine and finished the bottle.  (I gave away the remainder of the other two to people I knew would enjoy them more than I.) It isn’t likely to be a wine constantly in my inventory, but if I have to please a mixture of palates when dining with friends or family it will definitely be on my short list.

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If you buy your vodka in a skull shaped bottle, the two Wines That Rock should be in your shopping cart. Otherwise, I’d recommend saving $8 and buying a bottle of Apothic.  And if you really want to impress your friends with a vanity label wine I suggest watching out for Savanna Samson wines from Italy.  Her wines are actually worth the price, and let’s face it having a porn star on the label is just as entertaining as Mick Jagger’s lips.

Dreaming Tree Crush, California, 2011. $19 ****

Rolling Stones Forty Licks Merlot, California, 2010. $25 ***

Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010. $25 ***

La Fiorita Laurus, 2008. $25. *****

James Romanow writes about wine and all things boozy for the Spectator Tribune. Follow him @drbooze.